The holidays are special, but they’re different now that our kids aren’t living at home and our parents have passed away. Getting to spend the time that our two 20-somethings grant us at Christmas is wonderful, but nonetheless, some holiday activities are less important to me now than when I was a kid.
Back then, I was fanatical about decorating our house with Christmas lights. At age 12, I took control of putting lights on the house. I ran about the roof like a rat, bashing huge nails into shingles to hold cords and tossing lights across entire trees. One year, all the lights were blue; another year, only red and green. Today, I hang a few multicolored cords from Rite Aid, and that’s it. (Come to think of it, I still have them up from last year. I’m done!)
When I was young, I also was big into holiday music. At age 8, I begged my mother to buy me Arthur Fiedler’s “Sleigh Ride” album, and soon nearly wore out Christmas albums by Mantovani, Mitch Miller, Andy Williams, Robert Goulet, Bing Crosby, Elvis, The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and Vince Guaraldi (A Charlie Brown Christmas). I still have most of those old, scratched vinyl discs (but no turntable). For the holidays today, only occasionally do we turn on the radio to hear whatever holiday music is playing.
During my senior year in high school, I jumped at a chance for a job as Santa Claus. The year before, my older brother had the very cool job being the white-bearded man himself in front of a tiny strip of street-front stores. His girlfriend (and now wife of 37 years) worked in the pharmacy and got him the job. In 1967, he didn’t want it, so it was mine, after school and on weekends for three weeks. The center, which had only about six stores, placed a small “throne” for Santa next to a cage with three live deer. I was a rather sorry looking Santa—17, skinny, with a kid’s voice. I needed four pillows stuffed under my red suit just to provide the proper heft. I sat next to Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph, delivering candy canes and high-pitched ho-ho-ho’s to the kids.
One day, a priest at my Catholic high school asked if I’d come to school the following Saturday dressed up as Santa and hand out gifts to a group. I agreed, and the following weekend at the appointed hour, I parked my rusty red, 1947 flatbed truck a half-block from campus. As soon as I got out, nearly a hundred folks began to run toward me, shouting excitedly at Santa’s arrival. I was alarmed by the tumultuous crowd, and soon realized that the group was made up of developmentally disabled adults, whose enthusiasm was incredible. They surrounded me and swept me to the hall, where I received hugs and tears of joy for the next hour as I handed out gifts.
Although it was a magical experience that affected me deeply, I haven’t donned a Santa suit since. Whatever suits you this holiday season, I hope you enjoy yourselves.